Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak on this topic today as it reminds me of one of those occasional days in the House when we do have meaningful debate that sets aside a lot of partisan-charged rhetoric. These kinds of debates allow us to have really good discussions and allow us to bring good ideas forward. That has happened today, and I want to commend the mover for bringing forward this motion.
Coming from an aboriginal family and living in an aboriginal community for much of my life, I have seen this issue unfortunately occur in many families. Others in the House have talked about that because we have all experienced the effect of suicide in our lives.
I do recall hearing a simple statement over the years and it is a simple statement that bears repeating, and that is that no one ever wants to commit suicide, he or she just wants the pain to end. So that is where I will start.
I would like to also extend my sympathies to all of the families that have been affected by suicide throughout the years. This tragedy exacts a terrible toll in grief and heartbreak, and leaves no one unaffected.
My hon. colleagues today have spoken about initiatives undertaken by the Public Health Agency of Canada regarding this issue. I want to speak a bit about how, through its initiatives and investments, our government is working with its partners to break the cycle of hopelessness and despair that still exists in some aboriginal communities.
Our government has invested in many programs and initiatives that are playing a critical role in improving the quality of life for aboriginal people, building safer, healthier and stronger communities. In the time I have today, I will only talk about a few of them.
We recognize that it takes more than bricks and mortar to build and sustain a healthy community. That is why our government is working with its partners to strengthen what is the cornerstone of any community, the family.
I would like to point out that we introduced just last week Bill S-2, family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act. This bill offers a balanced and effective solution to long-standing injustice that affects people living on reserves, particularly women and children.
In the event of a relationship breakdown, death of a spouse or common law partner or family violence, many of the legal rights and remedies relating to matrimonial interests in the family home that are available off reserve are not available to individuals who live on reserve, with potentially very serious consequences. I am looking forward to the passage of this important legislation because I truly believe all parties in this place would prefer to see women and children protected rather than being left vulnerable by this legal void.
In order to further support the family our government initiated and continues to be engaged in an ongoing reform of the first nations child and family services program with a focus on results. We are working with our partners in the provinces and first nations themselves to implement what is called an enhanced prevention focused approach aimed at providing better outcomes for children and their families.
This is a new model designed to ensure the best practices in prevention-based services are brought to first nations communities. It broadens the tool kit of culturally appropriate services, which will help first nations family and child services work with families during breakups and keep children in their homes.
We launched this model in 2007 with a signing of a tripartite agreement with the province of Alberta and Alberta first nations. Today, tripartite agreements are also in place with our first nation partners in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. With these six agreements in place, enhanced prevention services are reaching close to 70% of first nations children who live on reserves in Canada.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada also works with a broad range of stakeholders on the co-ordination of family violence programming to better protect the interests of first nations women, children and families.
Partners in this effort include the National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations and of course the provinces and territories as well as many of the departments within our federal government.
By providing family violence prevention and protection services, we can enhance the safety and security of first nation women and children, and achieve a more secure family environment for children on reserve.
We recognize, however, that even with the best efforts at prevention, crises can befall families, first nations families, all families in Canada. This is partly why Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development provides operational funding of some $18 million a year to support a network of 41 shelters, serving approximately 300 first nations communities.
Every year, approximately 1,900 women and 2,300 children access these services. We would prefer they were not needed, but it is a reality throughout society that we must face.
These are just a few examples of what our government is doing to protect the welfare of first nation children and families, to keep those children safe, to keep families together and build stronger, healthier communities.
This group of government programs I have described do not work in isolation. They are part of a much broader, co-ordinated effort by our government, developed in partnership with aboriginal people and organizations.
We continue to listen to aboriginal people and we have heard their concerns. We are taking action, and will continue to do so. For example, in June, the hon. Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations announced a Canada-First Nations joint action plan. The goal of the action plan is simple: to improve the lives of first nations people across Canada, and in doing so, contribute to a stronger and more prosperous country.
The action plan is based on common goals and shared principles. It states our commitment to work together to achieve concrete and practical progress, to build effective, appropriate and fully accountable governance structures, which is important, and empower the success of individuals through access to education, opportunity and property. It reflects our commitment to implementing the programs and investments that enable strong, sustainable and self-sufficient communities, and to creating conditions to accelerate economic development opportunities for all Canadians.
Of equal importance, this action plan reflects our shared commitment to respect the role of first nations culture and language in our history and in our future. The plan also specifically has important goals in relation to four areas, education, accountability, transparency, economic development and negotiation, and implementation.
I would like to speak a bit more, though, about education, as I see it as a key and important area which will help alleviate much of the hopelessness that we see in first nations communities. This engagement process that I spoke of recommends a framework for providing modifications to the way we deliver K to 12 education in first nations communities.
The national panel is holding a series of round tables and other activities across the country to engage parents, students, teachers, elders, educators and anyone, in fact, who has an interest in improving first nations education. These round tables are enjoying strong participation.
The panel will make recommendations to the minister and to the national chief on options for positive change for first nations students. This could include the possibility of new legislation to improve the governance framework and clarify accountability for first nations elementary and secondary education. We look forward to receiving this panel's report and recommendations by the end of the year.
The action plan commits Canada and the Assembly of First Nations to pursue initiatives that increase the transparency and accountability of first nations government through their respective constituents. This would include initiatives to improve first nations electoral processes, such as those advanced at regional first nations organizations, such as, the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, which has called for a common election day as well as a four year cycle. Changes such as this will greatly improve the transparency process of their electoral practices.
In many remote locations, first nations communities can be especially vulnerable to fire, flood and other natural disasters. The action plan also includes a joint commitment to continued development and implementation of emergency management frameworks.
Perhaps the most vivid illustration of our action and real improvement in the aboriginal quality of life is Canada's economic action plan. When the government unveiled the first action plan two years ago, we made sure that this comprehensive blueprint for economic renewal focused on priorities that were and remain foremost in the minds of Canadians: the construction of more reserve housing; improving on-reserve health; developing training and skills development opportunities for young people taking part in these construction activities; and accelerating ready to go projects in first nations communities in three key areas: schools, water and critical community services.
By means of the economic action plan, we invested $1.4 billion over the past two fiscal years on things that matter most to all Canadian families, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike. I believe all of these investments have made a difference in supporting our first nations communities and I look forward to the opportunity to see the fruits of all of this investment in the years to come. Unfortunately, though, it does take time.
I believe that our efforts as a government will continue to put aboriginal people's interests first and I look forward to being a part of that plan.